I hate to be disappointed by The Walking Dead, especially with a finale, especially with the finale to such a generally awesome season as season 6. I hate to think it failed, it sucked, it just didn’t follow through on the promise of its dramatic situation, but with this finale, that’s a large part of what I’m thinking.
There’s 7 reasons for this failure/disappointment, but they all really boil down to one, which I can express in one word: Negan.
Negan, boss of the Saviors and dark shadow hanging over Rick’s neck, has been hinted at since the end of season 5. We’ve waited ALL SEASON to get a glimpse of this terrifying, John Galt-esque ghost in the machine, who pulls all the strings and leaves carnage in his wake, and then when we finally do…
*damp squib fires*
7 reasons? Hold on to your hat.
1- Negan looks weak
There’s no plainer way to say it than that. The last time I saw Jeffrey Dean Morgan it was as the Comedian in The Watchmen. He was a huge, powerful bear of a man. He had serious bulk- essential to believing his strength and his threat.
Since those days Dean Morgan has lost 40lbs for a role in Texas Rising.
Negan is a muscular thug. The Comedian was a thug. He’s not now.
40lbs is a shit-brick-ton of weight for Dean Morgan to lose, and it really shows. The second he walked out of his new RV, I was taken aback by the feeble narrowness of his shoulders. It was visceral. Like, wtf happened? I’m supposed to be scared by this greasy, leering hipster? Where’s the mass? Where’s the terror? He carries that baseball bat like it’s a foppish affectation.
You mean he’s going to actually swing it? It’ll be like a pansy’s breath. No way he can break someone with that lack of muscles. He couldn’t make the bell ring on a strongman’s high striker. He couldn’t lift an Atlas ball. He couldn’t probably even beat Rick Grimes in an arm wrestle.
So I’m supposed to fear this guy? He looks like a punk. I’m supposed to believe that in the aftermath of apocalypse, he managed to rally all these hundred-odd bad-ass men under him, without any need for sheer physical force?
It would be OK if they’d played him different. The Governor wasn’t massive but he was terrifying. But everything about Negan is about sheer force. The guns. The vast numbers of men- more than we’ve ever seen before in The Walking Dead. It’s all building up to this grand reveal.
He couldn’t squat 200lbs. He couldn’t bench 160. He has no legs, no shoulders, no back. He’s a massive anticlimax, which plays a big role in-
2- Negan has no charm
Before The Comedian, Dean Morgan played Denny in Grey’s Anatomy (yeah OK I watched a season or two, you got me). Back then he also had that big physicality, but there it was tied to a gentle, oafish kind of charm- laid up in bed with, what was it, brain cancer? Cancer’s crushing for anyone, but to see such a physically powerful figure laid so low, but taking it so well? That made him a really likable character.
Negan needs to be likable. Even as he’s killing, he’s smiling. Like the Comedian. He’s a total dick, but it’s a knowing dickishness. The Comedian could clown around, grin big, fool with us, but because of the mass there’s also fear.
Without the mass, but with the clowning, what have we got?
Lex Luthor- via Jesse Eisenberg.
The mass ties that silly japes attitude down. Grounds it, but Dean Morgan doesn’t have that now. He doesn’t look like a thug who happens to have a brain and a sense of humor, he looks the smug smart-alec trust-fund who was born into privilege.
The thing is- Morgan wouldn’t be the first actor to go from romance star to complex action hero. Our very own Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln, comes out of exactly that background with This Life and Teachers. Tough but weepy guy Matthew Fox on LOST got his break in Party of Five, and let’s not forget the big daddy, Bruce Willis, who segued from Moonlighting to Die Hard.
It can be done. It doesn’t require massive muscles.
But the role of Negan so plainly does. That big grin is fooling nobody, because-
3. Negan is mentally weak
Picture this: you’re a tyrant. You rule by force and brutality, like Genghis Khan. When people resist, you make examples- which can mean killing everyone in a town, torturing those who remain, and leaving one person alive to spread your legend.
It’s the way pirates worked. They didn’t want to have to fight for every bounty they stole. They were not only madmen, but also men who wanted money without dying en route. So they carved themselves a legacy, branded it with the Jolly Roger, so that when it unfurled people rolled over and opened the doors without a fight.
Genghis Khan did it. Pirates did it.
Negan does it selectively.
Some guy from the library gets tortured. All his people get killed, and for what? Holding out supplies.
End of story. They were people just like Rick’s people are people. No one is more special than another.
Then here comes Rick. His group kills probably 20-30 of Negan’s men. Twenty to thirty!! What would Genghis Khan do? What would pirates do?
I guarantee they would not do what Negan does. Just think about it for a second. Negan’s standard practise when coming across new folks is to kill one of them as an example. AND THAT IS ALL HE DOES TO RICK’S GROUP! One person will die. ONE! In what world would that be sufficient payback to re-instil fear? In what world would Genghis Khan say, “Don’t crucify them all outside the city gates, just do one. That’ll really give them pause.”
It’s nuts. It’s weak. It’s just plain stupid- because clearly Rick is a killer. The writers have powered him up so high, the only way he can lose but not also get killed is by d-epowering the bad guy. If I was Negan I wouldn’t kill one of them. THAT’S WHAT THEY DO TO EVERYONE, ANYWAY! At a minimum I’d kill 4. At a reasonable level I’d go over to Alexandria and kill them there, in front of the town. I’d stake them up. Maybe I’d kill them all.
Then I’d say open the gates. Open my gates.
For Negan to not do any of this is just a huge failing of his character. Combined with the weak physicality, it makes me think there is no way he could gather and keep that many brutal men under his control. Imagine what those guys are thinking.
“Hurr hurr, oh yeah, ONE of them is really going to get it now! Whoo boy they’re gonna get it. Bam, Lucille, Bam! That’ll leanr em.”
Come on. And speaking of Lucille…
4. Negan kills mercifully.
They beat the crap out of that library guy for hours, I guess. He looked real bad. Even the one guy did worse to Carol, in terms of torment.
This is supposed to be a big show. This is supposed to fully crush our folks into nothing. I expected a sustained, brutal, bone-breaking battering to take place, with lots of writhing and squirming and our characters watching with the shcok beating into them. If you’re going to go to that place, that’s how you do it.
But no. Whoever the victim was (my money’s on Darryl- largely cos they didn’t show a shot of him hardly at all in the final line-up) got dead or unconscious in two or so blows to the head.
Whaaaat? That is merciful. The barbed wire played no role at all. You’d barely feel the pain- it would be over too fast. As payback for 20-30 dead, it is nothing. It’s feeble.
5. Negan kills 1st person style.
Of course this is not Negan’s fault- it’s the way they tried to cliff-hang us until next season. I am not a fan- not so much because it was a cliffhanger as because it robbed us of the true emotional anguish of the death.
From a first person perspective, it is easy. We don’t feel the pain, first of all. We don’t even know who it is, second of all. and third, most important of all, we don’t get to see the anguish in the other peoples’ eyes.
That is the real cost of all this. The wound it inflicts on the others- that they are unable to stop it. We need to see some loved character get mauled, and we need to see that despair in Rick and the others. That would fire us off into season 7 like a jet-pack.
We don’t get it. The tension drops as soon as we go first-person. there’s no pain this way.
A better way?
Cut Negan’s godawful moralizing speech, or intersperse it with a truly brutal beating. Make us all witness it, and make us all feel helpless. Make it last. And then, when the victim finally dies, Negan looks at Rick. “Did I say one?” then big grin, cut away.
You get the same cliffhanger- who else will die? But you get the horror of the first death, fully played out.
They missed a real trick, here.
6. Negan is magic.
The shit Negan pulls in this episode, minus ‘find my iphone’ style GPS tagging stuck to each of the main characters, is just magical.
How did he even know they would go to Hilltop that day? How did he have time to get all those huge barricades in place? How did he manage to execute ambushes not only to a squad of people walking through the random dark, but also multiple times throughout the season? How did he pull the RV up just ahead without anyone hearing it? How did he do any of it?
Logistically it’s just a massive undertaking. And for what? Why?
A show of force. But why bother with a show of force so hugely weaker than the show of force your enemy has already shown you? I’ve been over this ground, but it bears repeating. Rick et al killed 20-30 of his men. Negan sets up a lot of pointless blockades that they’ll only have to pull down later, commits numerous men to the campaign, then kills only one person?
It’s just silly. It’s magical and it’s silly. Really, he should kill them all. Less theatrics, more brutality.
7. Negan isn’t real.
It’s the combination of all the above points. Negan is not real. I don’t believe he could exist in that form.
It’s a tough one. I’ve absolutely loved the evolution of our characters into the badasses they thought they already were a few seasons back. You know- back when they thought they could handle Terminus from inside a shipping container, but in the end got rescued by Carole, and when they thought it was a good idea to move a mass flock of walkers from a mining pit rather than just kill them.
They finally got badass. Negan is supposed to be badder even than that.
But he’s not. Pfft. He’s a withered two-day-old balloon, with hardly any air left. If he were real, and events got to this stage, the story would basically be over. There is no benefit to keeping Rick alive, or his son, or any of the warriors.
Negan wants slaves/indentured servants. Perhaps he also wants to crush other people’s ego. He should know he can’t do either of those with this group, not without a response altogether more massive. To truly break Rick, if that’s what he wants, he needs to kill Carl. He needs to make Rick choose who dies next. He needs to do a lot of horrible things.
But he can’t, because the show would end, so they powered him down. They gave him magic instead of making him brutal. He’d have been way better off keeping the library people alive and killing all of these, but instead he gives a long speech.
I will certainly keep watching Walking Dead. They do things I’ve never seen before, in a world I adore, sometimes with such skill it leaves me breathless. Other times they whiff and miss. It’s OK. They’ll hit it again soon, I’m sure. The one thing I can’t really fault in all this is Rick and his group. He did good. Andrew Lincoln almost acted his way out of the shitty situation he was in. They didn’t require powering down at all.
And they shall overcome.